Basic to Higher Education
Basic education is the mandatory minimum education requirement in Estonia. It covers grades 1-9. Basic education can be obtained in specific primary schools (that teach up to grade 6 only), basic schools (that teach up to grade 9), and upper secondary schools which offer the basic education curricula together with the upper secondary education.
The school year begins on 1 September and ends usually at the beginning of June. School holidays for most schools are in autumn (one week), during Christmas and New Year (usually two weeks), in late winter (one week) and in spring (one week).
Schools in Estonia are generally divided into two: public and private schools. Public schools are free and most of them accept children into the first grade based on their catchment area. (The local government provides a place for all eligible children at one of their municipal schools.)
Applications for entering the first grade can be submitted either via the e-school website or on paper to your local government. To fall into a catchment area, you must register the place of residence of your child in Estonia.
Where to study?
There are several municipal schools in Tallinn that primarily teach in a foreign language, including those set up in collaboration with other national governments, such as the Kadrioru German School (high emphasis on German) and the Finnish College (classes in Finnish). There is also a French Lyceum offering basic and secondary education.
Most schools in Estonia teach in either Estonian or Russian. Many of the Russian schools also have an immersion program for the Estonian language. Education in English is available mainly in private schools: International School of Estonia (IB), Tallinn European School (EB), International School of Tallinn (IB), International School in Tartu (IB), and the Estonian Business School (a highschool). Pay in mind that private schools have a tuition fee and a right to set specific admission conditions.
The Tallinn European School teaches in English and in a variety of other languages, including German, French, Spanish, Italian, Finnish and Estonian. The school maintains places for the children of the employees of the European institutions and agencies.
When graduating from grade 9 at around 15 years of age, students can either continue their studies, undertake vocational training or start working.
Upper secondary schools teach a variety of mandatory and voluntary courses. These courses are designed to help students move towards their higher or vocational education path.
Usually, secondary education is acquired within three school years in a gymnasium, upper secondary school or lyceum. The state and local governments ensure the availability of secondary education to everyone.
Vocational schools focus on practical skills and experience. They can be attended either after completing the basic or the upper secondary education.
Estonian higher education is top quality stuff. The first university in Estonia was established in Tartu in 1632. University of Tartu is now among the top 3% best universities of the world.* It is also the highest ranked university in the Baltic states, if you were wondering.
Tallinn University of Technology (TUT) – with the alumni including world-class start-up entrepreneurs – is also ranked among the 500 best universities in the world.
Higher education in Estonia is open to all eligible students at bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate levels. In universities, many courses are taught in English. The quality of teaching is high and 89% of international students at Estonian universities are satisfied with the quality of education they have received.**
All students with secondary education (or equal foreign qualifications) have the right to apply for a place in a higher education institution.
*according to Times Higher Education world university rankings.
**according to the International Student Barometer (IBS).
Universities in Estonia
University of Tartu
Tallinn University of Technology
Estonian Academy of Arts
Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre
Estonian University of Life Sciences
Estonian Business School (private university)
The dedicated Study in Estonia website offers a wealth of information about courses that are accessible to those who don’t (yet!) speak Estonian.